These last few years, I’ve participated in many collaborative divorce cases as a financial neutral. As most know, when you are hired as a neutral on a case, your goal is to help both clients meet their needs in the divorce, so that the dissolution agreements are sustainable long after the final agreement has been signed.
When hired as a client advocate and not as part of a collaborative team, I am often told many things that are personal in nature, and should not be divulged in order to protect the client’s privacy. Some of these things include: undisclosed accounts, gifts to oneself, an upcoming trip, new loves, etc.
Collaborative really stretches us as professionals to make a paradigm shift in how we approach our work. The more collaborative work I do, the more I realize how challenging it really is. What one may not need to divulge in a case as an advocate has to be carefully considered in a collaborative case: How do we approach the information? How do we address a sensitive topic? How do we divulge the new facts?
Let’s look at an example. In a case I am working now, the client’s employer just merged with another company, forming a much larger publicly traded company. My client, as a result, was awarded numerous stock options. After meeting with the attorney, we decided that if the other spouse did not ask for it, we were not going to mention it. We are filing the proper and complete financial affidavit, but we are not going to bring it up in settlement negotiations. We are leaving the burden on the other spouse to see our disclosure and ask for the funds.
In a collaborative case, this news and additional bonus would have been divulged in the joint session. It would have been discussed by the financial neutral, the dollars around it and how it affects the Equitable Distribution or Property Division agreements. Invariably, it would be a defined agenda item. It is not only about what one person wants, but more about what is best for both moving forward. As a professional, this takes what we call a paradigm shift in the way we approach a case.
Collaborative changed me these last years.
As much as I would love to say I do 100% collaborative now, I still do not. My practice is growing every day to be more and more collaborative. However, I still do a lot of litigation and settlement support. I have cases now that are not collaborative, but my training in collaborative and mediation these last years has positively affected the way I do business. Cases in recent years, when things have been unknown, I have asked my client for permission to just call the other spouse. It has worked, and we have avoided costly court costs around discovery. We have been getting our information in a timely manner without going through the cost of multiple attorneys and paralegals. We are cutting out the middle man by being direct and open and communicative with the other professionals.
Divorce is a very traumatic experience for clients, and when they know they have someone that is trying really hard to do the right thing, everyone responds positively. After 8 years of collaborative, I see it seeping into every aspect of my work and personal life. I am still making paradigm shifts every day. I know that the collaborative work is hard, and the more I learn about it and the more experience I have with it, the more respect for it I have.
To learn more about collaborative divorce, please visit: https://www.collaborativepractice.com/